The Interfaith Couple in Meet the Parents

By Ronnie Friedland


When blonde Pam Byrnes (Peri Polo) brings her boyfriend Greg Focker!–yes, the last name garners a few laughs–home to “meet the parents,” the fact that she is Christian and her boyfriend (Ben Stiller) Jewish appears relatively inconsequential to her parents. The differences in their backgrounds, though, do create some comic contrasts.

The portrayal of Greg, the Jewish boyfriend, is refreshingly free from stereotype, and even plays against it. He is not a Jewish doctor–instead, he is a nurse! It is the world of wealth of Pam’s family that is more stereotypical. Her sister is engaged to a doctor who comes from a family of doctors, and her former fiance (Owen Wilson), presented as “old money,” chooses, he says, to work as a carpenter “like Jesus Christ” while overseeing his investments. Greg’s roots, in contrast, are obviously more humble. When he picks up his string beans and eats them with his fingers, it is clear that table manners were not a priority in his family.

Greg is neither rich nor arrogant, just a nice guy who loves his girlfriend and wants to make a good impression on her family. He tries too hard, however, and his attempts to cover up who he really is in order to say what he thinks will impress the parents–or, more specifically, Pam’s father Jack (Robert De Niro)–lead to several comic situations. The issue, though, is Greg’s dishonesty, not his religion.

The comedy ends on a happy note. Blythe Danner, who plays Pam’s mother, wants her daughter to be happy and attempts to convince her husband to stop trying to destroy the relationship. De Niro, as the bizarrely frightening prospective father-in-law, ultimately shows his soft side and ends up supporting his daughter’s choice.

The film is often amusing and the acting is impressive.

Directed by Jay Roach, the PG-13-rated film is written by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, based on a story by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke. Peter James is director of photography. The music is by Randy Newman.


About Ronnie Friedland

Ronnie Friedland was the founding Web Magazine Editor of InterfaithFamily.